Area Minorities Try To Expand Political Power, Involvement

Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post, September 2, 2006

Inside what was once a segregated two-room schoolhouse on East Randolph Road, black, Latino, Asian and African leaders held hands, lowered their heads and vowed to join forces for the first time to increase minority participation in Maryland’s upcoming elections.

“Communities of color are watching and mobilizing,” Henry Hailstock, president of the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP, said recently as the leaders signed a unity pledge and circulated a calendar of voter drives at churches and supermarkets.

Since the 2000 election cycle, nearly all of Maryland’s population growth has been among blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Leaders of those communities are trying to turn those numbers into political clout, and candidates—from those in county executive contests to those in the race for governor—are responding by courting them for endorsements and campaign cash.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) raised $60,000 one night this spring at the home of a Korean American business owner in Howard County. Another fundraiser is planned with Asian leaders in Montgomery. Ehrlich’s rival, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley (D), is creating a Spanish version of his Web site and preparing to roll out Amigos de O’Malley, a group of Latino supporters in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

The leaders of these diverse groups say they are motivated by the national debate over immigration and the renewal of the Voting Rights Act in Congress, but their efforts could have repercussions at the local and state level, including in the Sept. 12 primaries in Maryland and the District.

In the District, Hispanic organizations have dipped into the city’s political process for the first time, pressing their issues with candidates in the mayoral and D.C. Council races, turning out 350 people for a debate and forming a political action committee that has endorsed council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) for mayor.

For too long, “the city has not incorporated Hispanics into its agenda,” said Eugenio Arene, executive director of the Council of Latino Agencies, an umbrella group of multicultural nonprofit groups.

In Virginia, ethnic groups say they are trying to boost participation as the November election nears. The Democratic Latino Organization of Virginia held a forum in Arlington County last week featuring local politicians and others, said state Secretary Sindy Benavides. The organization is planning voter registration drives and other efforts from Northern Virginia to Galax, near the Tennessee border.

Next Saturday, Fairfax County Republicans will hold what they bill as an “ethnic rally” that is expected to draw Sen. George Allen and Northern Virginia’s two GOP members of Congress, Reps. Frank R. Wolf and Thomas M. Davis III.

The event comes as state Republican leaders try to gauge the fallout from remarks Allen made last month to a Fairfax County native of Indian descent. At a rally in southwest Virginia, Allen referred to S.R. Sidarth, a campaign worker for opponent James Webb (D), as a “macaca” and urged the crowd to welcome him to “America and the real world of Virginia.” Allen has apologized, but political analysts say the remarks could hurt the GOP in Northern Virginia, where immigrant populations are swelling.

Even as the Montgomery leaders came together last month at the former Smithville Colored School in Silver Spring, they recognized their differences in language and tradition. Blacks in the county as well as statewide have a long history of political organizing, with roots in the civil rights movement. Their leaders said they were re-energized by the debate over voting rights in Congress to build strength in numbers by collaborating with newer Latino and Asian communities.

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Since 1990, the Washington region’s immigrant population has more than doubled as the overall population has grown by about a quarter. In Maryland, about 12 percent of the household population last year was foreign-born, according to numbers from the 2005 American Community Survey. In Montgomery, it was 29 percent, and in Prince George’s, 17 percent.

The two leading Democratic candidates for Montgomery county executive—Isiah “Ike” Leggett and Steven A. Silverman—have sought out these residents, giving interviews on Spanish-language radio and Telemundo’s local Telenoticias 64 and appearing on the local Chinese cable TV channel.

Silverman’s campaign literature has been translated into Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese, and visitors to the Web sites of many Montgomery candidates for the General Assembly can click on Spanish versions. Hans Riemer, a County Council candidate in District 5, has a version of his site in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.

The Hispanic Democratic Club of Montgomery County intends to spend $9,000 this election season to mail sample ballots in Spanish to Democrats with Hispanic surnames culled from a database. Hispanics represent 5.7 percent of the state’s population but account for 13.6 percent in Montgomery and 10.7 percent in Prince George’s.

In the District, local Democratic leaders and community organizations estimate there are 5,000 to 10,000 registered Latino voters. Gustavo F. Velasquez, director of the mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, estimates from census and election data that Hispanics might make up 2.5 percent of the vote “if we have a strong showing.” That percentage “can be extremely important in a close election,” he said.

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At the state level, Asian leaders have demonstrated their burgeoning political strength, persuading legislators and the governor during the General Assembly session this year to have the state officially recognize the Asian Lunar New Year. Ehrlich marked the occasion by hosting a reception at the governor’s mansion. He recently stopped by the Asian American Business Conference in Rockville, where he was joined by Benjamin H. Wu, assistant secretary for business and economic development.

In the past 15 years, the Asian population in Montgomery has increased 60 percent and now makes up 13.2 percent of the county’s overall population, compared with 4.8 percent statewide. Although Asian Pacific Islanders are still a fraction of all voters, their participation in presidential elections in Maryland increased 85 percent, to 50,000, between 2000 and 2004, according to U.S. Census figures analyzed by the District-based Asian Pacific Islander American Vote.

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Date: 9/1/2006 4:08:53 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Volunteer Interpreting Opportunity in Angier, NC

Dear CATI member:

Voter Registration for the Board of Elections in Harnett County is looking for a Spanish-English interpreter who could volunteer to work with them on September 9, 2006 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at the Crepe Myrtle Festival in Angier, NC. They are doing a voter registration drive and will have voter registration materials available in English and in Spanish. However, no one in their office speaks Spanish, and they want to be able to communicate effectively with any Spanish speaking citizens who wish to register to vote.

If anyone is interested in volunteering they can contact:

Sherre Toler

Director of Elections

[email protected]

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